Indigenous Musics and Well-Being

The research project Indigenous Musics and Well-Being, led by Pirkko Moisala, professor in musicology, is concerned with music as a tool of the empowerment, wellbeing and identity of indigenous people. The project is one of the research projects conducted at the Faculty of Arts that in 2013 received funding targeted at research on cultures from the Future Fund.

In the video below, Moisala talks in more detail about her research project, as well as the benefits gained from the donation, and discusses the social importance of research in the humanities. A summary of the interview is available below the video.

The Indigenous Musics and Well-Being research project focuses on indigenous people and music as a tool of their empowerment and the maintenance of their cultural wellbeing, primarily on a group level rather than that of individuals.

The project brings together several researchers interested in the same theme. Moisala, who was interested in the opera, originally came to Helsinki to study musicology, but the diversity of music around the world, its richness and the human ability for musical expression changed her focus to ethnomusicology. Since 1975, Moisala has studied the connection of indigenous music to wellbeing and cultural characteristics in a Nepalese mountain village.

Another participant in the project is Klisala Harrison, a Canadian researcher currently working as a research fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and specialised in the study of Canadian indigenous people. At the moment, she is conducting research among the Sámi people, and in its widest scope, her research studies the music of indigenous people in the Arctic region and the opportunities it provides to maintain wellbeing. In addition, Sibone Oroza, a postgraduate student in musicology, participates in the project. Her research focuses on the opportunities indigenous women have to find new social and economic footholds in society through music, with Bolivian cholita performers as an example. The fourth member of the project is Xinjie Chen, a Chinese postgraduate student in ethnomusicology, who studies the music of the Sámi people, with a specific emphasis on record production and the influence of the music industry on strengthening the Sámi identity and expressing the rights of indigenous people.

The relation between music and wellbeing has been studied under the scope of music therapy within the framework of Western culture and music, especially on an individual level, but the focus has rarely been outside the Western world and the group level. In general, music’s relation to the wellbeing of humans is a very wide-ranging research field studied on even the neurological level. The importance of studying indigenous music and wellbeing stems especially from the political situation of indigenous people. Indigenous people comprise hundreds of millions of people all around the world. Indigenousness is a political ideology and concept that has grown rapidly since the 1980s, through which people that have lived in certain regions from times immemorial seek and pursue their political rights. The amount of research focused on indigenous music is increasing because music is a strong weapon for pursuing rights and empowerment. Music strengthens pride in one’s own culture and roots. Those indigenous people on which research has been conducted have also felt that studying the topic is important.

Research funding through a donation made by the Future Fund was hugely significant for the project. It instilled a feeling of importance in the topic and tightened cooperation between researchers while enabling a couple of fieldwork trips. With the help of the donation, an international seminar was organised in cooperation with the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies that brought together seven experts of music and wellbeing from around the world. The seminar was a wonderful experience for all participants and provided them with new perspectives, support and partners.

According to Moisala, donations give recognition to the work conducted by researchers at the University. In a market economy, direct and immediate financial benefit is usually expected of research, but Moisala points out that the promotion of cultural wellbeing through, for example, studying connections between music and wellbeing will probably end up diminishing social spending in the future.

“Thank you for the donation, it was fantastic for our research group!”